Tips for Making Smart Ingredient Swaps

Learn to take a recipe and make it your own.

Published Jan. 4, 2023.

Here at Cook’s Country, my colleagues and I try our best to produce failproof recipes, exhaustively tested to ensure harmonious and balanced flavors, with clear-cut instructions that are easy to follow to success. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get creative with them at home. I usually like to make a recipe once as written and then use it as a jumping-off point for infinite possible adaptations. 

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The key to successful recipe tweaking is to understand what each ingredient is bringing to the finished dish. For savory recipes, think about finding swaps with similar flavor intensity, salt or sweetness level, moisture content, and time needed to cook through. (Baking recipes are much more precise and are harder to improvise; they’ll take more trial and error in figuring out ingredient substitutes.) 

Bacon, Apple, and Date Flatbreads

Pizza night just got a lot more elegant.
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Take these Bacon, Apple, and Date Flatbreads, for example. This recipe is a great opportunity to flex your improv muscles. Keep the pizza dough (store-bought works well, or you can make your own) and oven time and temperature as a framework and then have a ball with toppings. Here are some ideas, depending on what you have on hand.

  • Swap out the apple for thinly sliced pears, pineapple, or even grapes.
  • Try cottage cheese, cream cheese, or goat cheese instead of mascarpone.
  • Switch up the dried fruits. Instead of dates, try dried cranberries, cherries, or figs.
  • Use cheddar or blue cheese instead of fontina.
  • Substitute thyme or parsley for the rosemary, or try other types of aromatics instead of herbs. Think lemon zest, minced garlic, or red pepper flakes.
  • No bacon? Try topping the baked flatbreads with ribbons of ham or prosciutto instead. Or omit the meat all together for a hearty vegetarian option. 

Happy experimenting!

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